Luke is a true historian, shown by the beginning of chapter 3. We have names and dates. Both Annas and Caiaphas were high priests. Annas was high priest from 6-15 A.D. and then was deposed by the Romans. Caiaphas was his son in law and he was high priest from 18-36 A.D. Luke lists them both because Annas still wielded considerable power behind the scenes. John’s public ministry began sometime around 26/27 A.D. and he wasted no time calling people to repentance. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, using the Jewish practice of washing with water to cleanse or set people apart for God’s service. This became John’s baptism of repentance. The people were to do this in preparation for the coming Messiah. Their baptism publicly demonstrated their repentance and spiritual cleansing. Luke quoted Isaiah 40:3-5 here, the image reflecting the middle eastern practice of preparing a road at the approach of a king, sort of like rolling out the red carpet. The multitudes flocked to see and hear John the Baptist and many went through the motions of being baptized but nothing in their lives or hearts changed. These are the same ones Jesus would later refer to as white washed tombs. These people were genuinely not interested in the kind of king or kingdom John was presenting. The coming wrath John spoke of referred to the judgement for all who rejected the gospel message, and Israel as a nation would experience this wrath in 70 A.D. Many Jews believed that being a descendant of Abraham was like a get out of jail free card and it guaranteed their salvation. John informed them that this meant nothing in the scheme of things. God had selected the Israelites as His people and He could reject them and create children of Abraham from stones. Israel would be judged as an unfruitful vineyard.
When the gathered crowds asked what they should do, John taught them. If they had two shirts or tunics they only needed one and should share. The same with food. If people had some to share, regardless how much, they were called to share with those who had none. As we have seen, the tax collectors took as much as they possibly could from people. John told them to stop cheating people. The same went for the soldiers who could extort money from people for no apparent reason. John even went so far as to tell the people to be satisfied with what they had. And then John began to tell the crowds about the Messiah. Untying sandals was done only by slaves, the lowest of the low. So John was honoring the Messiah. The Old Testament prophets predicted that in the last days God would pour out His Spirit on His people. This was partially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. But fire is often an image of judgement, and it has the power to cleanse and refine God’s people. Chaff was the useless shells of the grain that blew away in the winnowing process, but here John said it would end up burning in an unquenchable fire. This is an image of separation for judgement and what happens to those who have nothing to do with the Lord.
Many of the accounts here in Luke we have seen in either Matthew or Mark so I may either skip them or spend little time on them. We know that Herod Antipas who ruled over Galilee married the wife of his half brother Herod Philip. John the Baptist criticized him and as a result was thrown in prison where he was later beheaded. Jesus began His public ministry when He was 30, the time when priests were eligible to serve in the temple. One of the things we will see as we read Luke is the importance Jesus places on prayer and time spent authority the Father. The rest of chapter 3 is genealogy. Luke reverses Matthew’s order and lists Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam, possibly to show Jesus’ connection with all humanity as the Son of God. Matthew’s genealogy descends from Abraham to Joseph, highlighting Jesus’ status as the rightful heir of David’s throne and the recipient of God’s promises to Abraham. The great differences of these two genealogies has led many to believe Luke’s genealogy is that of Mary, who was probably one of Luke’s primary sources.
Luke records the temptation of Jesus, with the evil one trying to tempt Jesus to bypass His Father’s plan of salvation by taking power and glory for Himself. The 40 day temptation in the wilderness parallels Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness. Israel failed when tested. Jesus did not. Adam and Eve were tested by the evil one and they failed. Jesus, the second Adam, resisted temptation and as such reversed the judgement against Adam and Eve. Both Israel and Adam are identified as God’s sons, with Jesus being the Son in the fullest sense. He succeeded where Adam had failed. Israel complained constantly about hunger in the wilderness, but Jesus depended on God’s strength to sustain Him. We see the evil one here as thinking he owns everything. All the kingdoms of the world were his to give, but there are other places in the New Testament they describe the evil ones limited rule over the present world order. Israel had turned to idolatry when they suffered hardship in the wilderness, but Jesus refused to worship the evil one. Twice Jesus quoted scripture to the evil one. With the third temptation the evil one quoted it to Jesus. Jesus reminded him that we are not to test the Lord. In the wilderness Israel constantly tested God’s faithfulness, but Jesus responded with complete trust in God.
After this Jesus returned to Galilee and she began His ministry there. He was filled with the Holy Spirit at His baptism and He was anointed and empowered to accomplish His role as Messiah. Jesus went home to Nazareth. Luke shows us Jesus faithfulness. While He was there He want to the synagogue…as was His habit. Often visiting teachers were invited to teach in the synagogue services, and Jesus was invited to teach. What happened in Nazareth is really a preview for Jesus’ whole ministry. Jesus had gone there to announce the good news that God’s salvation had now arrived. The people were pleased with Jesus, the hometown boy made good, until Jesus reminded them that God reaches out to Gentiles as well as Jews. This infuriated the crowd to the point they tried to kill Him. Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, the year of the Lord’s favor when debts were erased, slaves were set free, and land was returned to its original owners. Here in Isaiah the year of jubilee is a metaphor for God’s salvation. Jesus announced that because He was present the new age of salvation had arrived. The request for more signs was for Jesus to prove Himself by repeating the kind of miraculous work He had done in Capernaum. And the people in the Nazareth synagogue were furious that Jesus pointed out the favor God had shown to the Gentiles. The Jews viewed themselves as sole recipients of God’s favor and they were oppressed by Gentile overlords. They tried to throw Jesus off a cliff just outside Nazareth but Jesus passed right through the crowd. The emphasis here is on His Sovereignty. His time had not yet come. This attempt to kill Jesus anticipated His crucifixion, so His escape foreshadows His resurrection.
Capernaum was the base of Jesus’ ministry but He was always on the move. Again we see Jesus casting out demons who recognized Him. Jesus always silenced these demons, not wanting people to know He was the Messiah. It wasn’t time yet. And the people continued to be amazed at what Jesus did. Magicians and exorcists often used elaborate rituals and incantations. Jesus spoke a word or two and cast the demons out. Crowds of people flocked to Jesus to be healed regardless of where He was. On this occasion people flocked to Peter’s house, filling the house and courtyard and spilling out onto the street. In 4:42 we again see Jesus going off to a quiet place to pray. The people eventually found Him but here we see the importance of spending time with the Father. If Jesus needed to do that, how much more do we??!
Chapter 5 records the first call of the disciples recorded in Luke. Matthew and Mark record a seemingly earlier call of the four brothers who are fishermen. Jesus demonstrated extraordinary authority in the miraculous catch of fish and in His call of Simon Peter. By Jesus sitting in the boat He had a platform from which to teach without getting mobbed. When Jesus was done teaching Jesus invited Peter to go out fishing in the boat. They had worked all night and had caught nothing. It was difficult to fish during the day because the surface of the water was too warm, but Peter was obedient and let down the nets. There were so many fish Peter had to call for another boat to put all of them in and even then the boats were so full they were beginning to sink. Here we see Jesus’ authority over nature. Once they came ashore and Peter had recovered, Jesus called Peter and his brother Andrew plus James and John the sons of Zebedee. They were business partners. Jesus told them they would no longer fish for fish, but for men. And the four men walked away from everything. As they traveled Jesus and His disciples encountered all kinds of people who needed healing. In this case, a man with advanced leprosy. Lepers had to live outside the city limits and when people came near they were required to yell unclean, unclean. This man bowed low before Jesus acknowledging Jesus as Lord. The man asked to be healed and Jesus did so, touching the man. Jesus was not contaminated by the disease but brought healing and salvation to the man. The healing was instantaneous and Jesus instructed the man to show himself to the priest and make the required offering. Verse 5:16 shows again the importance of spending time with the Father in prayer. Luke tells us that’s Jesus OFTEN withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
From 5:15-6:11 controversies begin. First Jesus healed a paralytic whose friends brought him to Jesus on a mat. Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven, causing the religious authorities much consternation. It was blasphemy for Jesus to forgive this man’s sins. Only God could forgive sins. Knowing scripture, these learned men still missed who Jesus truly was. While the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of blasphemy, He was reading their minds…something only God can do. Jesus showed His authority to forgive sins by healing the man. Jesus’ call of Levi/Matthew caused the second conflict with the religious leaders. It also introduced the idea that Jesus had come to save sinners. Matthew introduced Jesus to his friends and colleagues as a way to honor Jesus for calling him as a disciple. It was common in the ancient world to repay honor with honor. Meals were rituals of social status in the ancient world, and eating with someone meant acceptance of that person. The Pharisees refused to eat with tax collectors and other sinners or even enter their homes, believing they would defile them. They expected Jesus as a rabbi, to do the same. Jesus shattered social norms by dining with sinners and allowing sinful people to touch Him. It was also common, since most windows were left open, that if someone was giving a banquet people would come and stand by the windows and watch or make comments.
This conflict was followed by the discussion about fasting and not putting a piece of new fabric on an old garment or new wine in old wine skins. Both illustrations make the point that the old is incompatible with the new. Jesus didn’t come to patch up the old covenant, but to establish a new one. The kingdom of God brings a whole new orientation to thinking and living. But the religious leaders were more than content to keep going just as they had been for centuries. Even today, this kind of thinking hinders churches from moving forward because no one wants to change and grow. Everything is fine just the way it is until there aren’t enough people to keep the church open. The next conflict involved working on the sabbath. Jesus and His disciples were walking and came across a grain field. They were hungry so they picked some of the heads and rubbed off the husks in their hands. That act constituted work in the Pharisees minds. On another sabbath Jesus healed a man with a deformed right hand. Again the religious leaders were watching. Jesus had a reputation for placing human needs above the sabbath commands. They were hoping to catch Jesus breaking the sabbath law again, and they did. Jesus didn’t shy away from controversy, called the man up in front of everybody and healed him. And Jesus called out the leaders once again, asking if the sabbath permits good deeds or if it was a day for doing evil. The leaders were doing evil because they were plotting against Jesus because He was going to heal someone which was a good act.
The day before Jesus selected his 12 disciples, He prayed to God all night. These were the men who would carry on Jesus’ ministry after He ascended back into heaven. Disciples were students or learners while apostles were specially commissioned representatives. The number 12 symbolically represents the 12 tribes of Israel and the apostles represented the restored people of God. The diversity of the disciples is striking. From fishermen to a tax collector, a zealot to Judas who would betray Him. The rest of chapter 6 is called the great sermon, or the sermon on the plain. Much of it parallels the Sermon on The Mount. The central theme is that an authentic life of righteousness accompanies repentance and acceptance into God’s kingdom. People came from far and wide to hear Jesus teach, be healed or just watch the goings on. In Luke’s account of the beatitudes there is teaching. Not only are there blessings and promises of blessings but Jesus warned that people will hate and mock His followers. They will be cursed as evil. This is cause for joy because great rewards await in heaven for those who are persecuted in Jesus name.
People were commonly taught in the ancient world to love their families and friends but hate their enemies. Jesus turned that upside down. He announced a radical new ethic of loving even one’s enemies and overcoming evil through sacrificial love, not through violence and hate. Jesus’ followers are called to do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you. Give to those who ask and when people take from you do not try to get it back. Jesus’ point is that the cycle of hate and violence that characterizes human nature can only be broken by responding with good, not evil. We win the world through self sacrificial love. This is followed by the golden rule of doing to others what we would want done to us. And this is followed by Jesus’ command to not judge others. Jesus condemned hypocritical judgement that denigrated another person. Those who condemn others will be judged by that same standard. God requires His people to love others by warning them of the dangers of sin. Exhortation is an act of love. Judgement is an act of pride. When we give, our gift will be returned in full. A generous grain merchant would top off the buyers container, press it down, shake it to make more room, and then pour until the grain overflowed into the buyers lap. Such is the full measure that will be returned to the one who has been generous.
Jesus didn’t say that the speck in our friends eye is not our business, but that we must first correct our own faults so that we can see clearly enough to remove the speck. Jesus condemned hypocritical judgement. Lovingly holding one another accountable regarding sin is desirable. This reading ends with the parable of the wise and foolish men. The wise man built in the rock and the foolish man on the sand. But the biggest thing here is that we are called to not only to hear the Word of the Lord but act on what we hear. The question is often asked, what is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? When we listen and act we are like the house on the firm foundation. When we ignore what the Lord is saying to us, any sort of trouble or storm will knock us off our feet.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W